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In another context, in another ball game, you would have laughed at such a play. The people who put together NFL Films might have sped it up and played some tinkly music in the background, and everyone might have smiled—until they saw the aftermath. In the final frame would be Bert Jones, the Baltimore Colts' superlative quarterback, lying on the Tartan Turf in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, grabbing his damaged right shoulder. Jones is one of the two indispensable players in the NFL. The other is Houston's Earl Campbell. They can change the whole complexion of a team, lift the people around them—the hopes, the record, everything. They are franchises.
On Sunday afternoon Jones went down on a Looney Tunes play late in the third quarter of the Colts' 14-0 loss to the Chiefs. Later, in the losers' locker room, Baltimore Coach Ted Marchibroda, whose natural expression is worry, stared at the floor and said, "I just don't know. The kid tried to come back and go some more, and he just couldn't do it." Marchibroda shook his head, and somewhere in there was a vision of 1978, when he tried to get through most of a season—a very long 5-11 season—without Jones. With Jones, the Colts had been a playoff team in 1975, '76 and '77. Without him in 1979? "You can't rush a thing like this," Marchibroda said.
And then Dr. E.J. McDonnell, the Colts' orthopedic surgeon who spent his off-season telling people that the separated shoulder that had sidelined Jones for 13� games in 1978 was "rehabilitating very well," said of Jones' latest injury, "It's a severe contusion. It's going to stay sensitive for a long while. Terry Bradshaw had a separated shoulder. A lot of them have had it. The question is: Can they stand the pain?"
The pain in Jones' shoulder—and the pained look on Marchibroda's face—was caused by a flea-flicker that flickered briefly and then died. It was doomed from the start. Jones, his team down 7-0, was desperately trying to get something going, so he turned to one of the few trick plays in the Colts' playbook. Marchibroda is not a gimmicky coach. His offense is very basic, some say conservative. Hammer away with what you do best, or as Marchibroda puts it, "Everything within the context of your personnel."
At Kansas City, that meant going almost exclusively to one of the few healthy weapons in a Colt uniform, little Joe Washington, the halfback. Swing the ball to Washington, pitch it to him, hand it off to him—and hope for a miracle. Washington was having a big day, but the Arrowhead scoreboard still said Chiefs 7, Colts 0.
So, on first down at his own 36, Jones dished off another swing pass to Washington, and the plan was for Joe to flip the ball back to Jones who would hit somebody breaking downfield. Washington slipped, then one-bounced his toss back to Jones, who fielded it neatly on the short hop. "Pretty good shortstop, huh?" Jones would say. He flung the ball downfield where Mack Alston, a tight end who earns his living as a blocker, was standing side by side with Linebacker Thomas Howard. Howard stepped up for the interception, so Alston wrapped him up—like a lifeguard wrapping a blanket around an exposure victim. The referee's flag went down for offensive interference. Laughter from the stands.
Back upfield, Jones was down on the rug—and in agony. Sylvester Hicks, a 6'4", 252-pound defensive end, had put a rush on Jones, and the top of his helmet struck Jones' right shoulder—the shoulder that had been separated. Suddenly Greg Landry was in the game at quarterback for the Colts. But four plays later Jones returned.
Jones has a history of coming back and trying to work out his injuries under battle conditions. When the Steelers banged up his arm in the '75 playoffs, he came back in the fourth quarter and marched the Colts 85 yards, only to see the drive die on the three-yard line. When Jets' Linebacker Bob Martin re-separated Jones' shoulder last Oct. 15—it had originally been injured against the Lions on Aug. 26th—the quarterback gamely tried to continue for half a dozen plays before he packed it in. And then there was the Washington game last November, the great morality play on Monday night, when Jones went reeling to the bench after three Redskins nailed him on the sidelines. Jones soon reentered and, with three minutes to play, threw the winning TD pass to Roger Carr. That heroic performance prompted some very hard words from Redskin Coach Jack Pardee, words to the effect that perhaps Jones was faking it a bit.
"I don't know why he'd want to say a thing like that," Jones said last week. "Sure I was hurt by what he said, wouldn't you be? I remember throwing one pass to Carr that felt perfect but fell 15 yards short. Sometimes the ball flew on me, sometimes it died, but I'll tell you something, I love this game, and if I can play, I'll play. I guess, in retrospect, it was a stupid thing for me to do."